Lahore is covered in
smog — though probably not as much as Delhi — but still extreme enough
to cause an increase in road accidents, delay a cricket series with West
Indies, shut down schools and stir a storm on social media.
But the Pakistani
Punjab government’s explanation for this environmental hazard which is
not uncommon in developed and developing countries is very frustrating.
Almost everyone on this side of the border believes the stubble burning
in Indian Punjab alone caused this smog.
Yes, NASA images
confirm that the recent smog covers in northern India and Pakistan
correlated with the burning of the paddy crop in late October.
hides a policy failure, is simplistic, disempowering and also reeks of a
victimhood narrative not uncommon in Pakistan’s establishment.
This isn’t the first
time Lahore has had a smog crisis. There was a milder though alarming
enough version of it last year around this time. The Lahore High Court
asked the Environmental Protection Department to attain air quality
monitors and make policy. There is a policy, and the meters for
measuring the air quality are also available, but the EPD’s response was
slow, not timely.
Hence, blaming a neighboring country and injecting falsities in the popular narrative is as unhealthy as the smog itself.
Why has the Punjab
government not focused on green technologies, taxes, incentives, and
policies? Did the government make buying or parking cars more expensive
while providing cheap and safe public transport available as in the case
in the West? Are the emissions from industries, vehicles and rural
sites monitored, reported and controlled?
There has to be
scientific analysis into how much the crop-burning and coal power plant
emissions from India compromise the air in Pakistan. Other factors like
deforestation and sand storms from the Middle East may also play a role.
The government in
Delhi tried the even-odd policy — a short-term measure, which cannot
resolve the smog problem. Similarly, the Pakistan’s Punjab government
has made crop and garbage burning illegal now that the province is
Pakistan is also the
fastest urbanizsing country in South Asia — with an annual urbanising
rate of 3 per cent. UN Population Division estimated that half the
country would be living in cities by 2025. Lahore’s population, which is
now at seven million, will exceed 10 million by then. Smog has already
sabotaged north India and Pakistan, and long-term policies are needed.
No city in the world can sustain itself without formulating a clean air
Lahore's iconic Badshahi mosque covered in smog
Lahore’s Orange Line
Metro — a mass transit train line that will run across Lahore in 2018
is said to have caused the loss of 2,200 trees in the EIA report.
Governments take pride in economic growth, not environmental
preservation. Any long-term solution will require development projects
to place the environmentalists next to, not far behind, the economists
and financial experts.
chief minister is the younger brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif who prides himself in good governance, development, and wants to
turn Lahore into a modern infrastructural marvel and make Pakistan an
But why does it wait
for Allah or India to fix the air pollution caused by this economic
growth and industrialisation? Ultimately poor air or water quality and
the consequent health emergencies will sabotage the GDP, and the public
image of the country.
India and Pakistan
should consider signing a new bilateral agreement like the ‘Indus Water
Treaty’ but, this time, for air pollution control. One wonderful example
of such a treaty is the ‘US-Canada Air Quality Agreement’. This treaty
was initially meant to control “transboundary air pollution” and
included “emissions limitations” and “reduction of pollutants”. The two
countries were required to cut down sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides
to control acid rain. The US has a similar treaty with Mexico since
2012 to reduce the pollution in the borderland.
Lastly, there is a
need to empower the farmers in both the countries with the latest
technology to stop them from burning the stubble to prepare the lands
for the next crop.
India and Pakistan
are always at odds with each other. The smog has reminded us that the
two countries are connected in more ways than one. Any issues faced by
one will spill over into the next quickly. We need to move on from this
adolescent stage of blame game and come back to the table.